Gloria and David were high school sweethearts, who married soon after they graduated. After starting careers, they quickly started a family, settling into a tranquil suburb where they raised their two children. So, when David died from a heart attack at age 64, Gloria was bereft and descended into a state of depression that worried her family.
Despite showing some improvement after seeing a therapist, Gloria nevertheless missed her companion and spent much of her time alone. Her well-meaning friends saw that she was lonely and encouraged her to find a companion through an online site.
That’s when the trouble began.
Building trust leads to easy money
Gloria was soon contacted by a handsome 66-year-old man named Charles, a widower, who shared many of her interests. She was immediately intrigued by his intelligence and good looks, and the two communicated on the dating website for a couple of weeks, when Charles insisted they start communicating via phone, text and email.
As a physician on an offshore oil rig, Charles claimed he was only allowed a certain amount of leave periods during the year. He also said he couldn’t do video calls due to the poor signal. Nevertheless, they spoke every day, and with every conversation, Gloria grew more fascinated. He sent her photos and updated his website regularly with photos from the oil rig. That led to heartfelt love letters, poems and even more photos.
Falling hard for Charles, Gloria invited him to visit. Yet, two days before he was due to travel, he informed her that because he had an offshore account, it was difficult to purchase air tickets—and asked if she could send him the money. She agreed.
Gloria arrived at the airport, but Charles never showed. He claimed that because his passport was out-of-date, he had been detained and needed $9,000 to bond him out of jail. Gloria didn’t hesitate.
A month later, he contracted a viral disease and needed help to pay the hospital bills. Gloria immediately pulled out her wallet and paid $14,000 for his treatment. A few weeks later, he told Gloria his daughter contracted leukemia and urgently required $40,000 for treatment. Once again, Gloria sent the money without question.
After all, this was the man of her dreams, and she’d do anything to help.
The truth comes too late
Gloria’s children had no idea what happened until they realized she had spent almost $163,000 on Charles—yet had never encountered him in real life. The man known as “Charles” did not exist, and his profile was cloned from a Facebook site with fake photos.
The children hired a private investigator who discovered Charles was a professional phisher from Nigeria, a scammer who preyed on older, lonely women and men looking for a soulmate online—and who were gullible enough to send him substantial amounts of money.
Gloria realized the truth too late. Not only were her savings depleted, but she was heartbroken all over again.
Beware phishers and scammers of older adults
Gloria’s story is unfortunately all too common. Romance scammers create fake profiles on social media and dating websites and build relationships with people who seem vulnerable. Often, they interact by remaining in constant contact, sending love letters and poems. After a certain amount of time, they fabricate a story and start asking for money. Scammers often follow the same script and, like Charles, may claim they work on an oil rig, serve in a health care role for an international organization, or even claim they’re in the military and based overseas.
They typically make up stories to get money, using some common scenarios:
- They need airfare to visit the victim.
- They were in a car accident.
- They’ve been detained and need bond money.
- They’ve fallen ill and need to pay hospital bills.
- They need money to pay for a visa or to pay customs before being allowed to visit.
These scammers will typically ask for money to be paid via wire transfer, gift cards or online payment facilities to a third party (who acts as a go-between) because they know these transactions are exceedingly difficult to trace or reverse. They may even ask an older adult to open a bank account into which they can transfer money—and then ask for the person to transfer the money to someone else. This makes the senior complicit in fraud, whether they know it or not!
As a caregiver for an older adult, make sure your loved one never sends money to someone they’ve never met before—no matter how charming or trustworthy they seem. And let them know they should never open a new bank account for someone they don’t personally know.
If you’re worried your loved one may be the target of a scammer, do your online research. Various sites provide information on regular scammers, and you can always Google the name and look at online profiles. Also, be sure to report all scammers to the Federal Trade Commission, which runs the ReportFraud.ftc.gov website.
Gloria learned a painful, yet valuable, lesson. Make sure the senior in your life doesn’t make the same mistake!